New Yorkers United for Marriage Equality at Rally

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com June 21 2011 3:25 PM ET

New Yorkers from as far away as Buffalo and New York City traveled to the state capitol in Albany on Tuesday to rally for an immediate vote on the marriage equality bill, which remained one vote shy of passage in the Senate as lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo appeared to be making progress in negotiations by the early afternoon.

A few hundred people attended the Rally for Love and Marriage at West Capitol Park announced Monday by New Yorkers United for Marriage, the bipartisan coalition of five LGBT organizations working to pass the marriage equality bill. Holding signs and signing folk songs, they joined elected officials, community advocates, organized labor, and faith leaders in calling for the Senate to take a vote before the legislative session, already in overtime, comes to a close.

Speakers at the rally included Jim Alesi, the first Republican senator to announce last week that he would join 29 Senate Democrats in voting for the marriage equality bill. He received shouts of “Thank you, Jim!” from the crowd, which he said contained many “new friends.”

"I am Jim Alesi. I am a Republican. I was born that way," said the Rochester-area lawmaker, in a confident display of his familiarity with Gaga-esque lingo. He called the potential marriage equality vote the most important of his 20-year career and noted the change from 2009, when the bill failed in the state Senate with no Republican support and he, thought to be a potential yes vote at the front of the roll call, instead cast an “anguished” vote against it.

“I no longer have anguish. My vote will be yes,” said Alesi. “And my name begins with A. I am the first Republican vote to be cast in the New York State Senate and I am proud to be a Republican. I will also be proud to be the first Republican voter to vote for marriage equality in this state, to lead off what I hope will be a succession of more than just enough votes,” he said.

Currently, 31 senators, including Alesi and another Republican, Roy McDonald of the capital region, support the bill, which needs 32 votes to pass. McDonald did not attend the rally, but he has launched an equality-themed Facebook page with nearly 12,000 “likes.”

Whether or the Republican-controlled Senate will bring the bill to the floor for a vote depends in large part on the resolution of other business between the legislature and Governor Cuomo, including rent regulations and a property tax cap. Those items appeared to be closer to a deal Tuesday afternoon and sparked hopeful comments from Senate majority leader Dean Skelos that the session may conclude Wednesday.

No agreement has been reached yet on the marriage equality bill, where the Republican conference is negotiating broader but unspecified religious exemptions with the Cuomo administration. The bill passed the Assembly last week with exemptions for religious organizations that refuse to solemnize same-sex weddings or allow their facilities to be used for the events. Any additional exemptions language would be presented in chapter amendments that Senate Republicans would consider with the bill, and the chapter amendments would also need approval by the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

Other elected officials sounded confident of a successful vote this week, with gay Assembly member Daniel O’Donnell, sponsor of the measure in his chamber, saying, “The wind of equality is blowing through Albany.”

O’Donnell appeared at the rally with fellow gay Democratic Assembly members Deborah Glick, Harry Bronson, and Matthew Titone, in addition to Janet Duprey and Teresa Sayward, two upstate Republicans who also sponsored the bill.

“We're not leaving Albany until we have a marriage equality bill,” said Sayward, who told the crowd about her gay son and his family, which includes a young man rescued from the streets of Cleveland who recently graduated college with an engineering degree.

While lawmakers and Cuomo negotiate the religious exemptions and close other deals to unclog the legislative pipeline, speakers urged rally attendees to continue to contact their lawmakers and ask for an immediate vote on the marriage equality bill.

"It's never been an if. It's that we need the when to be now," said gay senator Thomas K. Duane, the sponsor of marriage equality legislation in the Senate. "You've got to keep making calls,” he said.

Phone banking for marriage equality is scheduled to continue Tuesday evening at 1199 SEIU headquarters in Midtown Manhattan with a visit from lesbian New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn. In addition, the Human Rights Campaign announced the 51st and final video of its New Yorkers for Marriage Equality series, which offers a compilation of the previous 50 videos, which have received more than 1 million views.